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As one of the world’s most densely populated urban centers, Mexico City can feel intimidating at first; the hustle and bustle is as inspiring as it is exhausting.

To better understand the complex cultural identity of this vibrant megacity, where pre-Hispanic, colonial, and contemporary influences collide, we organized a five-day trip – “Layer by Layer: A Mexico City Culinary Adventure” – in partnership with Atlas Obscura.

Led by veteran Culinary Backstreets guide and Mexico City native Paco de Santiago, this unique trip gives a broader understanding of the city’s natural landscape and intimate culinary traditions. Through Paco’s personal anecdotes and encyclopedic knowledge of Mexican culture, the group was able to better understand the harmony as well as the dissonance that define this layered city.

We asked CB photographer PJ Rountree to join the trip and share his perspective on this wide-ranging experience, which is being offered again in April 2019 and October 2019.

Xochimilco: Aztec Agricultural Traditions Live On

In what remains of the vast lakes that once covered the Valley of Mexico, the Aztec tradition of manmade islands – or chinampas – for farming purposes continues to this day.

Ricardo Rodríguez, CB’s Xochimilco expert, explains the agricultural techniques used in the area that allow for up to seven harvests a year.

We float in our trajinera boat along the canals while snacking on tacos de guisado with mole, rajas with cream, chorizo and potato, and more.

One corridor of the Xochimilco market offers freshly pressed tortillas and handmade gorditas and tlacoyos made with various kinds of heirloom maíz.

Nocturnal Taco Tour

A skilled pastorero slices the lightly charred marinated pork at our first stop.

Stay warm huddled around tacos de suadero at another late night spot.

These taco maestros are taking full advantage of their hot wood-fired grill.

Like the other spots on this night tour, the tacos here are enjoyed standing up with however much spicy salsa you can handle.

Pulque On The Farm in Milpa Alta

Still within city limits, Paco took us to a rural mountain town in the Milpa Alta county in southern Mexico City.

Don Lauro, a local farmer, invited us to explore his small farm, which was sprouting with every type of fruit and vegetable imaginable.

Don Lauro shows us some freshly harvested heirloom maíz, which comes in many colors.

Don Lauro’s granddaughter pours us the thick, freshly fermented pulque sweetened with guava. The pulque was made from sap from a maguey plant, collected by Don Lauro that morning.

Mercado Jamaica: Bright Colors And Flavors

The Jamaica Market (not far from the Centro Histórico) serves as the city’s primary flower market. It gets especially crowded around major religious holidays like Day of the Dead or the Christmas season.

Among the flowers, fruits and veggies are some of the tastiest food stalls the city has to offer.

For something sweet, chew on some candied fruits and veggies. They offer cucumber, beet, cactus paddle, and even a poblano pepper stuffed with coconut.

The sensory overload that Mercado Jamaica offers is the perfect culmination of our experience learning more about Mexico City and its culture.

Spaces are still available on our five-day “Layer by Layer: A Mexico City Culinary Adventure” trips in April 2019 and October 2019.

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